First Line (Prologue): It was night again.
I remember the fantasy world exploding when The Name of the Wind first hit the shelves. I think my friend Todd recommended it to me about 10 days after it was released. I put it on my list, but I never got around to it until now. Sue me.
Part of the problem was that I had heard so much about it… had heard the comparisons made… Martin, Tolkien, Rawlings… hell, Strange Horizons even called The Name of the Wind “the David Copperfield of fantasy.” I just couldn’t bring myself to buy into all the hype. More’s the pity.
Rather than start off with a plot summary, I’ll start off with the comparisons…
George R.R. Martin?
No. Not even close. But it’s not a fair comparison, at least as far as the Martin’s epic series A Song of Ice and Fire is concerned. These are two extremely different styles of writing, and the only thing they have in common is that they are both fantasy series and, as such, share a few similar tropes. But, where Martin’s focus is upon a multitude of characters and their individual and interlinked relationships, Rothfuss’ focus is on one man – Kvothe. The result is a rather significant, comparatively, lack of complexity and depth to TNotW. A wonderfully positive side to this, however, is that TNotW moves at a much faster pace. It’s a light, fun, quick read that belies the book’s rather hefty 662 pages. Rothfuss establishes a wonderful voice in Kvothe, and his prose is absorbing and witty. Unlike Martin, of whose saga I am a tremendous fan, the vast majority of TNotW is extremely difficult to put down – not necessarily because of the story, but because of the way in which the story is told. Where Martin’s strength is story building, Rothfuss’ strength is story telling – two very different things.
It’s inevitable, I suppose. Any new fantasy author or series will ultimately be compared with Tolkien. It’s a stale and tired tradition that the fantasy community really needs to break away from. I adore the series. I’ve read nearly everything from The Silmarillion to The Children of Hurin. But ultimately it’s too early to make the comparison. At this point, any comparison with Tolkien needs to be focused upon world building. With only two-thirds of The Kingkiller Chronicle out (the name of the entire trilogy Rothfuss has planned), there’s no way an accurate comparison can be made between the two. More importantly, though, is that even on a story level, once again there is little to compare. LotR is the classic Hero’s Quest, and everything revolves around a singular task set before the protagonist. While there are hints at a final quest object in TNotW (both the name of the wind and the Chandrian), the form of the story is more of a memoir than quest. It’s the story of Kvothe’s life, as told by Kvothe, and it understandably – and necessarily – seems to wander at times, unfocused, because of that.
“the David Copperfield of fantasy”
It has been at least 15 or 20 years since I’ve read Copperfield (yet another book to put in the “To Read Again” pile), but any type of Dickensian comparison seems out of place, if only because Dickens actually, you know, resolved his conflicts… at least partially. For now I’ll let this particular comparison slide, however. I reserve the right, though, to update this particular paragraph after re-reading Copperfield, especially if I think the comparison has merit. My grey-haired memory, however, can’t grasp it at the moment with any kind of detail.
(note to self – start using initials more instead of entire name)
This is a comparison that actually works, I think: Young boy. Parents killed by unknown magical force. Goes to magic school. Seeks answers and/or revenge that will (might?) save the world.
Rest assured, however, that unlike Rawlings, Rothfuss is a tremendously gifted writer and TNotW outshines The Philosopher’s Stone in every conceivable way. What Rawlings and Rothfuss both have in common, though, is that they really know how to tell a story. They both “work the audience” (as we called it back in my acting days) and have a solid grasp on exactly what is needed to get the reader emotionally invested in their story. And that is the strongest element of The Name of the Wind.
And now for a comparison I’d like to see:
Anne Rice and the Interview With a Vampire series. If only for the form… a reporter writes frantically as a man orates his life story. I think there are more parallels here than in any of the other comparisons. Perhaps I’ll write a paper on it.
So, that said, I liked The Name of the Wind. Really liked it, actually. I think Rothfuss is one of the best story tellers I have read in the last five or ten years. He has a subtle and deft touch to his prose that enables the reader (read: me) to create an emotional bond with his protagonist. I am invested not just in the story, but in Kvothe.
This is a story within a story… and there are times when it feels as though Kvothe is sitting in the room with me and telling me his story. This is, easily, the single strongest element of The Name of the Wind. The style of the piece left me needing to know what came next. I needed to know how things worked out for whatever little conflict was going on. I read the final 200 or so pages in one sitting because I simply could not… put… the book… down.
But TNotW is not without it’s flaws…
The story itself begins in third person before shifting into first. I found the first fifty or so pages after that shift to be awkward at best, agonizingly slow at worst. I was sucked into the third person. When “Chronicler” starts recording Kvothe’s story and everything shifts to first person it threw me. I completely dropped out of the “moment” of the story, saw the author’s hand, and struggled to find the new rhythm and tone Rothfuss was trying to establish.
There are also, I think, some rather significant problems with the plotting. Perhaps they will work themselves out in the next two books, but I found them distracting and, at times, damaging to the “truth” behind Kvothe’s story. For example…
Kvothe grew up the son of a well-known, even famous, bardic troupe leader. They performed for kings, queens, and nobles. They were heralded in nearly every town in which they happened to stop. After his parent’s death, there is never any mention of the massacre. And yet Kvothe hears the rumors of a random wedding party being slain 70 miles away the day after the massacre?
Kvothe, a child alone in a big city, turns to something completely unfamiliar – begging and stealing – rather than what is familiar – performing – to make some sort of life for himself?
There are more, to be sure, but there is a much more significant problem with The Name of the Wind:
It’s all setup. It’s nothing more than a 662 page prologue for books two and three. Nothing… let me repeat that… NOTHING... is resolved. Even though I loved what I was reading, at the end of the day I felt cheated by Patrick Rothfuss. He didn’t tell me a story. Stories have… well perhaps not endings, but there is a sense of closure to them. Martin, Tolkien, Rawlings… they each had a sense of closure with the end of their books. Even Dickens, who wrote the majority of his works as episodic installments with the fabled cliffhanger ending, still gave the reader the satisfaction of that final, contented sigh of completion (at least before the sharp inhale of the cliffhanger!).
This is, I think, the biggest flaw with TNotW, and it’s one that, no matter how much I enjoyed the book, spoils everything.
Do I think you should read The Name of the Wind? Absolutely. Rothfuss’ talent at storytelling cannot be denied. He will suck you in with his wit, his humor, his pacing… Just be aware that you aren’t getting a full story. You’re getting setup. Even though I already bought the second book, chances are I’ll wait until book three is released (the final book in the series) and then read them all, one after the other, so I can actually get some kind of resolution. If you are looking for a fast, light read, though, I recommend The Name of the Wind. Not as highly as Sanderson’s Mistborn series, but it’s still a terrific read.